Safe From Harm, North Kivu, eastern Congo, 2012
© Richard Mosse Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery
For the Deutsche Borse this year I’m rooting for Richard Mosse’s project Infra. Representing conflict, tragedy and trauma is not without its problems. The aestheticization of pain and suffering is of course problematic, and it could be argued that Infra offers this in spades. The project documents the conflict in eastern Congo using large format sheets of Kodak Aerochrome infrared film, and the resulting imagery is vivid – even lurid – and (I hate to use this word but it does the trick…) ‘surreal’. The work has been credited for subverting the kinds of representation of civil and tribal warfare in Africa that has sadly become clichéd. Mosse’s photographs are anything but familiar. If they remind us of the horrors that are ongoing, then surely that’s got to be a good thing? As well as the aesthetic of the material, the use of infrared film – that was intended for military surveillance – within the theatre of war rather than from the relative safety of some hi tech aeroplane, is also interesting.
Infrared often fascinates photographers. It’s an opportunity to render an image as another thing might ‘see’ it and serves as a reminder that human perception might do the job well for us, but it isn’t a definitive way of seeing. Sadly, with the ease of access to and use of Photoshop etc. the infrared look has become a novelty. Several times I’ve come across the particularly grating phase “eye-popping” when I’ve looked into enthusiasts messing around with filters, levels and so on, to achieve the kind of kitch imagery that might find its way on to a poster on sale in Glastonbury High Street. Richard Mosse’s imagery is kind of spectacular, but it doesn’t leave your eyes dangling by their nerve endings for the sake of it. There is a lot more going on here, even if it’s the simple observation that the craziness of his pictures reflects the insanity of war. If you’re not convinced that Mosse has thought a lot about this complex subject, I urge you to have a look at some of his other works on his website, particularly Kill Cam. Plenty has been written around Infra, that can be read on Mosse’s website here, student perspectives can be seen in the comments about a study visit to the Infra exhibition in 2012 at the Open Eye Gallery.
This is the first of four posts by photography tutors about the finalists for this years Deutsche Börse Prize